Customized extensions to involve people in a decision making process
Public opposition is one of the main non-technological barriers to the development of renewables and to the therefore necessary expansion of the electricity grid. Participatory processes are key for increasing the acceptability of projects and for designing better solutions, and it is important to choose and properly apply the right methodologies and tools for their effective implementation.
Geographical Information Systems (GIS), commonly used in spatial planning and environmental impact assessment, can be also used in participatory processes, for example to highlight interactions between the proposal of a new power plant and populated areas, important landmarks, existing infrastructures, and so on.
UTOPIA is a prototype of a participatory web-GIS, developed in the INSPIRE-Grid FP7 project, which aimed at enhancing participation in the development of future grid infrastructures.
UTOPIA focuses on functionalities that support the involvement of stakeholders and citizens and enable them to interact with the decision-makers expressing their own opinion about alternative routes or solutions. Three functionalities, not available in standard web-GIS apps, have been implemented:
1. Improvement of standard exploration functionalities to visualise the areas affected by the power line.
2. A tool for sending comments and documents related to a specific location
3. Elicitation of preferences about landmarks to be protected and computation of an interference indicator.
The overall INSPIRE-Grid project cost was € 3 461 721.
The development of the web-GIS tool regards only a part of the activities.
Evidence of success
UTOPIA was tested in the INSPIRE-Grid project on two case studies (Sogndal-Norway and Schwäbisch Gmünd-Germany) through workshops held in 4 countries with Transmission System Operators, Master students, local stakeholders. It was appreciated for its capability of capturing geographic information in an easy and fast way. Its use to elicit people preferences and to support participation was discussed in detail. Results suggest that the use of web-GIS potentially increases the perceived justice.
In the test on case studies:
- collected preferences could not be representative of the affected population due to different levels of computer literacy
- the cases were real but the researchers were not allowed to actually use the tool in the formal permitting procedure
Potential for learning or transfer
The UTOPIA web-GIS, in connection with the Multi Criteria Decision Analysis methodology (both defined and used in the INSPIRE-Grid project), might be interesting to other regional/national authorities looking for a way to improve the planning and permitting procedures working on better participation processes to find more acceptable solutions and minimise public opposition.
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